Housing minister Grant Shapps MP kicks off a seven part series of articles by Conservative MPs, each discussing the Coalition's policies to get more people into good homes. Follow Grant on Twitter.
It is simply not acceptable that people in an advanced, civilised society can go without one of the most basic human needs: that of a roof over their head. That homes can lay dormant and empty. That tenants on six-figure salaries can keep the vulnerable out of social housing. That houses can become less affordable, not more. That the property ladder can be pulled up, not lowered. That housing waiting lists can lengthen, not shrink.
That is the reality and that is Labour’s housing legacy. Housebuilding plummeted to its lowest peacetime level since the 1920s. The number of affordable homes available fell by 200,000. The number of First-Time Buyers collapsed to levels not seen since the 1970s. Local authority waiting lists nearly doubled. And whilst the 2005 Labour Manifesto promised home ownership would rise ‘by another million to two million’ by 2010. In fact it fell by 260,000.
But perhaps we should not be surprised. Ed Miliband has admitted that social housing wasn’t important to Labour: ‘We refused to prioritise the building of new social housing’. And Ed Balls confesses Labour got it wrong on housing: ‘Labour’s plans were too cautious… [we] got it wrong… We were late in recognising the importance of building more homes and more affordable homes’.
Meanwhile in Opposition Labour has struggled to articulate a vision or any substantial policies on housing. The seventh Labour Housing or in this case Shadow Housing Minister I’ve faced (including a couple of junior ones) Alison Seabeck admitted: ‘We won’t rush into policy making’. She was right of course. Alison has already been replaced by my eighth opposite number in Housing, Jack Dromey.
A lazy consensus was allowed to take root under Labour. Social housing tenants became trapped in a system that blocked ambition, while thousands of households in need were excluded from the help that social housing could bring.
My job is to challenge that lazy consensus.
And so, since entering office, we have already begun to reverse these Labour trends. The New Homes Bonus, a multi-billion pound programme that rewards communities when they accept more housebuilding in their area, directly incentivises local authorities and local communities to support housing growth. Nearly half of councils say that the New Homes Bonus makes housebuilding easier.
Our FirstBuy scheme helps First-Time Buyers onto the property ladder, while the £4.5 billion Affordable Homes programme, the abolition of costly Home Information Packs, and the release of unused Government land for housing development, are further programmes underway to boost the housing market.
We have also managed to keep interest rates low in this country by tackling Labour’s deficit, reducing the risk of repossession that would have taken hold under Labour’s economic plans. In addition, we are simplifying the planning system and reducing regulatory burdens on the housebuilding industry, to make it easier to submit planning applications, while renewing our commitment to protect the natural and historic environment.
Latest figures confirm that housebuilding has already risen over a quarter under the Coalition Government – but there is much more to do to fix Labour’s Housing failure. Our Housing Strategy – which I am laying out to Parliament later today – will unlock the housing market, get Britain building again, and set the country on a sustainable footing for the future.
And in the coming days, my Conservative colleagues will help detail precisely how our Housing Strategy will start to transform opportunities for hard working Britons today.